Theology and Black Swan

Posted: January 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

Swan Lake is a ballet, which means I’ve never seen it.  The only thing that makes me flip the TV clicker quicker than ballet is ice skating.  But I am a film buff and the rave reviews surrounding the film Black Swan, which revolves around a ballet dancer’s attempt to perfect the central role of the ballet Swan lake, drove me to give the movie a chance.

Natalie Portman plays Nina, a naive, virginal ballerina obsessed with her craft thanks largely to her doting stage mother who treats the young woman like a little girl still dancing at recitals rather than on the grand NYC stage.  Nina wins the coveted role of both the White and Black Swans in a forthcoming reboot of the classic production.  The director has no doubt that Nina can play the role of the sweet White Swan who is in love with a prince but openly questions whether she has the emotional range to dance the role of the evil Black Swan who seduces the prince away and drives the White Swan to suicide.

Portman’s single-minded quest for perfection drives her to madness as she seeks to become both the White and Black Swan at the same time.  She is unable to cope with the division oscillating wildly between the two different personalities.

The entire cast, but especially Portman, deliver stunning performances in an otherwise thoroughly mediocre film.  The movie is filled with distracting and unbelievable hallucinations lifted straight from a David Lynch piece and the plot is driven by a dated pop-Freudianism regarding the supposed dangers of sexual repression. 

The real opportunity seems to have been the relationship between the mother and daughter but it is squandered in exchange for cheap diversions such as the hyped lesbian sex scene between Portman and Mila Kunis, which was both unnecessary and poorly done. 

Counselors have long noted the dangers of the lack of “differentiation” between two members of a relationship.  Differentiation occurs when a person is connected to another emotionally but is not defined by the other person.  If one member or both members of a relationship define themselves by how the other person sees them then they cease to be a whole, distinct individual and instead seek to cobble together a self in response to their partner.  A lack of differentiation ultimately leaves the person or persons without any real identity to ground them and then eventually end up adrift in a very real emotional crisis.

Portman’s unhealthy relationship with her stage mother is prime material to explore the dangers of being wholly defined by another human being.  It would also resonate more strongly with audiences as, anecdotally anyway, I continue to encounter this problem on a nearly daily basis among people of all ages. 

The Bible teaches that such a move is really idolatry.  We belong to God and are to be wholly defined by Him and Him alone.  We are to ground our identities in creation and redemption not by the whims of another finite human being.  Black Swan does provide the opportunity to engage in such a necessary theological conversation but it is muddled by the poor obsession with Portman’s sexuality, which is overdone and, frankly, uninteresting.  How we construct our identities, on the other hand, is a rich and timely subject.

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